Anxiety, panic attacks, and fear of being a burden

I had an ex who, during the beginning of the disastrous end of our relationship, once told me that being with me felt like a chore, that spending time with me had become a burden.

And thus began my struggles with anxiety.

Now, sometimes when I interact with people, I become hyper aware of what I’m doing and become afraid of making a mistake or doing something to somehow look bad or unappealing. I’ve now become so afraid of rejection that sometimes I avoid social situations all together so there’s not even a chance of me messing up.

I constantly question whether my friends actually want to spend time with me or if they’re doing it out of obligation. I’m afraid to always be the friend making suggestions for things to do because maybe I’m being overbearing and nagging.

I’ve always been a bit of a worrier and a bit of an over thinker, but suddenly I found myself facing a whole new level of that when I had my first panic attack.

Bed1It started with trouble sleeping and as someone with a history of insomnia, I didn’t think too much of it.

Then suddenly one night as I laid in bed and let my worries from the day keep me awake, it all came cascading down. The weight and pain in my chest became overwhelming, my heart was racing and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even move.

Thankfully I’ve only experienced this a handful of times, but once is enough to really be shaken up. I’ve become fearful of my anxiety getting so out of control that I do develop a panic disorder. And of course, that only adds to the anxiety.

And as so many with anxiety can attest, it does have an actual negative effect on your life.

In August, one of my oldest friends, who I’d known since middle school, was moving to Chicago and had organized a going away dinner. For some reason, as I was in the shower getting ready to go out, I felt the anxiety building up inside me. By the time I had gotten out and was trying to get dressed, I was feeling so panicked at the prospect of going out that I couldn’t breathe. I had to curl up in bed to try and catch my breath. But then I couldn’t get up. I felt the weight on my chest and my legs and couldn’t move.

I made a mistake of reaching out to an ex who lived close in hopes that he was free to hang out so I could take my mind off my anxiety. Instead he tried to find the logical root to my panic asking me why I was feeling what I was feeling over and over when I said I didn’t know the answer. He even brushed off my fears of not being able to breathe or move by saying that I “would be fine.”

It was foolish of me to reach out to someone who doesn’t have a good understanding of mental illness and especially foolish since his actions have contributed largely to a lot of my insecurities. I can’t stress how important it is to find reliable people who care about you and who you trust to help you through these times or other methods to help you calm down.

This breathing gif I stumbled upon on tumblr is one thing I like to turn to when I’m panicking.

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I also rely a lot on a couple of friends to either help talk me through a panic attack or distract me with normal conversation to help me calm down.

One of my closest friends also experiences panic attacks and anxiety herself, so she’s almost always the first person I turn to because she understands. And there are few things more hurtful than reaching out to someone who doesn’t understand.

Even in the few real instances where I’ve had to deal with it, anxiety has already taken away from my life, robbing me of time I could have spent with friends and family and forcing me instead into a state of fear and panic that I wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

Though people will dismiss you, and it’s easy to dismiss yourself, anxiety is real and has real consequences. Anxiety is real. Realizing that is one of the biggest steps you can take towards coping.

~ Kayla

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Little black dress

“Little black dress” has become something in society symbolizing attractive young women with their go to outfits for a night on the town.

And I may own one or two dresses like that, the cute kind, the sexy kind.

But I also have another little black dress.

The one I put after sitting at my uncle’s bedside.

The one I put on after my friend’s brother fell while hiking.

The one I put on after my friend’s father went to sleep and never woke up.

I’ll be putting it on again today, after watching my aunt in pain for the last year.

And it would be completely normal to have terrible feelings attached to this dress. And sometimes that’s all I can think about; the tears, the pain in my chest, the emptiness.

But my family has a beautiful way to deal with grief, one that I’m trying to hold onto.

When my uncle was sick, very sick and nearing the end, family from all across the country flew out to see him and say their goodbyes.

And dozens of us would cram into his little hospice room and we would sit and talk. My aunts and uncles and other relatives would tell stories from their childhood, recount happy memories, sing their favorite songs and oh would the laughter fill the room.

One of the nurses working there said it was so refreshing to see so much joy and happiness in one of those hospice rooms.

14642037_10211219892637921_209395826355709281_nNow don’t get me wrong there were plenty of tears; in the end, when everyone had gone off, just a few of us where left there for the last breath and the grief was enough to take my own breath away for a moment.

But I’m trying now not to remember that breathlessness. I’m going to remember the comfort of family, the old stories and the music filling the air.

That’s how she would’ve wanted it.

Goodbye Auntie Lau.

~ Kayla

 

Link Round-Up [10.21.16]

1. My NerdCon Stories Talk about Mental Illness and Creativity – John Green, Medium

Here Green shares three stories about bad times in his life; The Alaska Implosion, The Sprite Debacle and the collapse of last year.

He discusses the difficulties of being creative while battle mental illness and the romanticized stigma that flirting with the brink of mental health elevates an artist’s creativity.

“In the end, I feel that romanticizing mental illness is dangerous and destructive just as stigmatizing it is. So I want to say that, yes, I am mentally ill. I’m not embarrassed about it. And I have written my best work not when flirting with the brink, but when treating my chronic health problem with consistency and care.”

2. My daughter, who lost her battle with mental illness, is still the bravest person I know –  Doris A. Fuller, The Washington Post

Fuller writes about her daughter’s battle with mental illness in this moving article and stresses that her daughter’s suicide doesn’t diminish her courage and bravery.

“My daughter lived more than six years with an incurable disease that filled her head with devils that literally hounded her to death, and she did it while laughing, painting, writing poetry, advocating and bringing joy to the people around her. She was the bravest person I have ever known, and her suicide doesn’t change that.”

3. Please Do Not Dismiss My Mental Illness – katiereablog

This 24-year-old blogger discusses what not to say to a person with a mental illness. At the top of is list is “you’ll be fine.”

Instead, Katie recommends using phrases like “you’re not alone in this” or “I can’t really understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion.”

Check out her post for suggestions on how to comfort someone with a mental illness and not dismiss their struggles.

4. Tweet of the Week

This tweet from @MentalHelpNet was just one in their twitter chat on domestic violence and abusive relationships.

As someone who’s been trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, I know how hard it is to spot the signs and encouraging discussion about them is an important step forward to helping those in emotionally abusive situations.

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5. Borrowed Time

While animated films and videos are perhaps thought of as just a medium for children, filmmakers around the world are showing that it can also explore dark, painful subjects.

This Pixar short deals with grief and guilt and suicide. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch and teaches us to find the strength to carry on in even the littlest of things – like an old broken pocket watch.

 

So what exactly is high-functioning depression?

There are tons of stereotypes and misconceptions about people who struggle with mental illness that attempt to paint them into an easily categorized, but ultimately narrow box.

But the truth is not everyone fits into our preconceived notions of mental illness.

So who do we miss, in our narrow definition of what a mentally ill person looks like?

Amanda Leventhal puts it perfectly in her piece for The Mighty:

“We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group. No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.”

Leventhal is describing what many on the internet are calling high-functioning depression. They are the overachievers, workaholics and perfectionists who are too hard on themselves and often don’t let their struggles with mental illness show in the typical, easy to spot ways.

Often times we think of depression as something that completely puts your life on hold. You withdraw, you act out, you lose grip, you outwardly struggle. These are all symptoms of the disease that can be spotted.

But in so many cases, those symptoms don’t manifest.

Tom Wootton is the founder of Bipolar Advantage, an organization that focuses on helping people gain better functionality with their mental illness.

In an article he wrote for Psychology Today, Wootton talks about the deceptiveness of being productive while depressed.

“After giving a keynote speech about functioning during depression, I was told that I was not depressed by Aaron Beck, the person behind the Beck Depression Inventory. When I shared with him my list of “symptoms’ he agreed that I was depressed after all.”

For Wootton, the key to identifying high functioning depression is to realize the difference between the feelings associated with depression and the response to depression.

Some people respond in the stereotypical ways. Others respond in unexpected ways. Either way, it’s depression.

Related: Why We Need To Talk About High-Functioning Depression by Emily Laurence for Well+Good via The Huffington Post

Consumed by my career

Being Filipino-American, the stereotypical pressure on academic success was a huge part of my life growing up. I graduated middle school as co-salutatorian and then went to a nationally ranked high school where the focus was on doing well on Advanced Placement tests to earn college credits and get into amazing schools.

It was a strange high school environment, being surrounded by some of the smartest and most motivated students in town. It was intimidating. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life yet all around me my peers had lofty goals of attending Ivy Leagues and pursuing careers in fields that mattered and would make a difference in the world.

Though I ended up going to college in my hometown, I was able to find something I was passionate in; journalism. It felt so fulfilling to finally find something I could be good at.

The problem was I threw myself into it completely. Especially during my junior and senior year of college, all I was doing was living and breathing journalism. (I even had dreams about journalism – ones where I was frantically working against deadline or ones where I woke up convinced I had made a dire mistake in an article.) I was involved in student clubs and student run campus media and interning at local publications all while balancing a course load full of reporting classes with their own assignments and projects.

I didn’t make time for anything else and I didn’t make time to take care of myself.

Without journalism and school I didn’t really know who or what I was and that was a terrifying realization. When I suddenly found myself without it, I felt empty, like I was nothing and with no purpose.

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Somewhere along the way, with all the hard work I was putting into my career, I had stopped putting work into myself.

I had tied so much of my personal happiness and satisfaction to my career that I hadn’t been taking the time to find things to make me happy outside of work. Without work, I was plunged into a devastating depression where I felt meaningless.

We’re often taught the value of hard work. But too often our own personal well being is pushed aside for the sake of success.

I learned the hard way that no matter how important a career is, there is nothing more important than yourself. Your happiness and well being are not worth sacrificing for a career.

So I’m taking my time getting back into professional journalism. There are times I panic, where I think that maybe I just need to throw myself back out there otherwise I’ll get stuck in this in between place and never get out. But I know in my heart that doing that would be disastrous for my mental well being. I’m not ready yet and that’s okay.

So instead, I’m dabbling, with this website, but I’m not throwing myself into it blindly. It may not make sense to a lot of people, but for my own well being and happiness it makes sense. And I’ve learned that that’s what truly matters.

~ Kayla

Link Round Up [10.14.16]

Here is a weekly Friday round-up of five mental health related articles, blog posts, projects, videos or art that you should check out.

1. Does Some Birth Control Raise Depression Risk? That’s Complicated – Tara Haelle, NPR

This week, tons of news stories have been floating around regarding a new study that seemed to definitively link depression to birth control. This NPR article discusses the scientific nuances that many of those “birth control raises depression risk” articles overlooked.

2.  I know what it’s like to be a black man living with depression – Kenneth Todd Nelson, Fusion

Kenneth Todd Nelson pens a beautiful article describing his experience with depression after the loss of his parents, with an emphasis on how being a black man shaped that experience.

“Changing the stigma starts with children: Tell your boys that it’s okay to cry, that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and that having depression or acknowledging a mental health challenge does not make you crazy. It makes you human.”

3. Anxy Magazine

Anxy is a magazine that hopes to shed light on “our inner worlds – the ones we often refuse to share, the personal struggles, the fears that fool us into believing that the rest of the world is normal and we’re not.”

Featured in Refinery29, Neiman Lab and Bustled, the project is garnering attention for it’s deeply personal stories packaged in beautifully artful ways.

While the biannual magazine’s first issue isn’t scheduled to go live until next May, you can read some of the founders’ stories on Medium.

4. Tweet of the week – Wil Wheaton

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On October 10, lots of celebrities took to twitter to share their stories about mental health in honor of World Mental Health Day.

Wil Wheaton’s series of tweets encouraged seeking out help and facilitated discussion about medication and therapy without the feeling of shame.

5. Falling Letters – Erik Rosenlund

This Swedish animated film by Erik Rosenlund beautifully illustrates what it’s like for a child with an attention disorder.

5 Statistics To Change Your Views On Mental Health

People have a lot of assumptions about mental illness. There’s a stigma attached to being mentally ill, a shame that comes along with it and renders it a difficult subject to talk about.

The best way to begin combatting stereotypes about mental illness is to get educated.

Here are five fast stats about mental illness and it’s prevalence in the U.S.

1. Just over 18 percent of adults in the U.S. have reported that they suffer from a mental illness.

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 43.6 million adults suffered from a mental illness. Of that 43.6 million, 9.8 million people suffered from a serious form of mental illness.

The SAMHSA defines mental illness as “having a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, other than a developmental or substance use order.”

This includes three levels of mental illness severity: mild mental illness, moderate mental illness and serious mental illness.

2. Only 44 percent of U.S. adults receive treatment for their mental health condition.

According to MentalHealth.gov, less than half of adults with “diagnosable mental health problems” seek out treatment. The number is even less for children or adolescents, with only 20 percent getting help.

3. Anxiety disorders and major depression are the most prevalent mental illnesses in the U.S.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.1 percent of adults (42 million) have anxiety disorders while 6.9 percent have major depression (16 million).

These two disorders often go hand in hand, with nearly half of those with depression also suffering from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

4. 45 percent of people who suffer from a mental illness meet the criteria for two or more disorders.

According to The Kim Foundation, many people have to deal with multiple mental illnesses at a time. The presence of two diseases or conditions at the same time is called comorbidity and can often increase the severity of each disease.

5. 90 percent of people who commit suicide had one or more mental disorders.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. This makes it even more dangerous than homicide. It’s particularly deadly for people ages 15 to 24, being the 3rd leading cause of death for that age group.

The beginning

I believe that depression and anxiety have always been something lurking just in the edges of my life. But these obstacles didn’t truly manifest in full (devastating) force until I graduated from college.

Senior year was hard, but it was also a time when I was on top of the world – I was accomplishing great things academically and professionally, had a couple opportunities to travel, and my social and love life were good.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 1.30.59 PMThen I graduated and moved to a new city and while it was only two hours away from home,  I still lost a lot of things: the safety and support of my friends and family back home, my roommate (I was living alone for the first time ever), and my boyfriend (we had a hard, messy break up).

I felt alone.

I had a few close friends in my new city, but they were busy with their own lives and I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone (hello anxiety). So I stayed silent and sad and I felt myself slowly being consumed by the feeling of being completely alone.

I can’t tell you the number of nights I cried myself to sleep this past year, an inexplainable crushing feeling of sadness physically manifesting on my chest, making it hard for me to breathe.Bed1

And while the abrupt changes in my life might clearly be reason enough to have triggered my depression, it still didn’t feel justified to me. I felt weak being unhappy – I had a good fellowship that paid well, I had nice a place to live, I had some friends in the area and lots of family and friends across the country.

And so I sucked it up, I put on a brave face and I suffered alone.

I suffered alone for longer than I’d like to admit, until finally I broke down and called one of my friends sobbing. She dropped everything and drove the 20 minutes across town to see me. She held me as I cried and babbled about how empty I felt.

That was the first step I took toward opening up, asking for help and putting myself back together.

This website is the second.

It’s a diary of sorts, a therapeutic way for me to process my experiences, the good and the very bad. It will also eventually be a professional project, where I hope to host my own reporting on mental illness. I hope it will become a place where people can share their own stories and have open discussion about mental illness.

I hope you join me on this journey of healing and learning.

~ Kayla